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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
Maometto Secondo - heroic melodrama in two acts (1820)
Maometto secondo … Lorenzo Regazzo (bass)
Paolo Erisso … Maxim Mironov (tenor)
Anna … Carmen Giannattasio (soprano)
Calbo … Anna Rita Gemmabella (mezzo)
Condulmiero … Nicola Marchesini (contraltista)
Selimo … Federico Lepre (tenor)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice di Venezia/Claudio Scimone
rec. Teatro La Fenice di Venezia, February 2005.
Set and costume: Pier Luigi Pizzi
Artistic director: Sergio Segalini
Chorus director: Emanuela Di Pietro
Lighting: Sergio Rossi
Video director: Tiziano Mancini
Region 0 – all regions
video system NTSC
Sound Format dts digital
Dolby digital
PCM 2.0
Picture Format 16:9.
Notes and synopsis: Italian, English, German, French;
Subtitles: Italian, (original language) English, German, French Spanish Chinese Japanese.
DYNAMIC 33492 [174:00]

In the press devoted to the genre, an opera written today is hyped and analysed around the world before and after the moments of its first performance. It was never thus in the nineteenth century: enabling some of our prolific composers to adapt the libretto/music to the tastes of the city of performance. Maometto Secondo is an opera in point.
It was written originally in 1820 for Naples, modified for Venice some two years later and re-adapted for Paris four years after that. The Neapolitans saw a grand opera with two long acts of almost unbroken sequential musical movements concluding in the heroine killing herself on stage. That would not go down well with the Venetians, so Rossini re-wrote chunks, imported music from other works of his, wrote additional music and produced a happy ending. And it is that Venetian version which we have here, rather than the more usually produced Naples version. That said even the Naples version is not produced that often.
I could spend time analysing the changes and the imported music that the accompanying leaflet tempts us to consider by listing the changes. But without a vocal score, or at least the libretto, it is somewhat pointless – and, at the end of the day, apart from the musical academic, who cares? By that I seek not to diminish the fascination which detailed analysis can provide but here I am reviewing a specific Venetian production of the Venetian version seen some three years ago at La Fenice. It is that which demands and deserves our attention.
Unfamiliarity with the story line is irrelevant. Let the sub-titles do their work and carry you along: but a brief, perhaps oversimplified analysis might help: Maometto, with his Turkish force, is besieging Venetian Negroponte - now you can see why the Venetians would feel personally involved -  of which Erisso is governor and Anna is his daughter. She is loved by Erisso’s general, Calbo. But, oh yes, you have guessed it, by an offstage pre-opera development she had met a disguised Maometto and loves him. When the Venetians win the off-stage battle, in the Naples version the Turks seek personal vengeance from Anna who kills herself. In this the Venetian version, with their defeat, the Turks disappear and Anna consents to marry Calbo. Yes, there are other side developments but those are the bare bones. All reasonably foreseeable and not the strongest story or libretto. Nevertheless, if a little uninteresting at times, it provides the foundation for some powerful orchestration with strong percussion and wind sections. There is much interchange between characters where vocal balance is fundamental - but with little, if any, character development - strong choral moments and powerful arias.
The orchestra sets off at a stylish pace with excellent wind solos, rousing Rossini crescendos and an evident deep enjoyment of the overture. If in the lighter moments, there is a somewhat heavier touch, perhaps Claudio Scimone was mindful of the gravity of the subject matter for which from time to time the music seems inappropriately cheerful. I was going to write that a perfect example of this appears in Act 1 at Figlia, mi lascia. Unfortunately the track or chapter breaks are comparatively few and no timings are given in the booklet. A total of 15 tracks for nearly 3 hours of music prevents me from giving precise references. The track in question is track 6 Giusto ciel, in tal periglio; it lasts approximately 16 minutes. and Figlia mi lascia is about five minutes into the track. Incidentally that 16 minutes also includes the delightful trio Mira, signor, quel pianto. I would have thought both justified a separate track for ease of reference.
Maxim Mironov (Erisso) is the young-looking ‘father’ of Carmen Giannattasio (Anna). His is a light tenor of distinctive timbre with real power when necessary. He produces a steadily focused and full sound with excellent runs and middle note hitting on high. This is a voice ideally suited to the music and the role – a joy to the ear.
Giannattasio starts slightly hesitantly but quickly relaxes and her vocal warmth and technical accuracy shine through. They need to do so because this role has numerous serious vocal leaps and long runs giving splendid opportunities for vocal display that she takes graciously. She produces some lovely deep sounds – almost, if not certainly, at mezzo level – with some delightful colouring.
She and Mironov have an excellent vocal balance with complementary sounds. There must be a serious future for these two young singers. Which is a most appropriate thought also for the comparatively new-to-opera Anna Rita Gemmabella (Calbo). She is a mezzo of exceptional vocal warmth which she has to rein back for most of the time in this role. She has the vocal strength and ability to transfer unnoticed from head to chest voice for some equally long vocal leaps. Quite excellent casting and the recipient of one of the very few audience-applause interruptions.
Lorenzo Regazzo carries the title role – and carries it well. No, he is not Samuel Ramey, but his deep brown sound with consistent power over the whole of his range is totally Turkish-warrior convincing. He moves easily around the stage and acts strongly with eyes, face and body. Whilst he has some well coloured high notes piano I was not entirely convinced that such gentleness as he shows would have been sufficient to cause Anna to love him.
Nicola Marchesini sings the role of Condulmiero. Now we are going to get into some deep water. General Calbo was written for, and is sung by, a mezzo. Condulmiero was written for a tenor in Naples and rewritten for a bass in Venice. No problem so far. There is then the question of whether for Venice Rossini transposed the music down for Condulmiero. The accompanying booklet says, “The few new passages assigned to Condulmiero in Venice are indeed written for a bass and not for a tenor; any modern revival of this opera’s Venetian version must therefore deal with this unsettled question, which can probably be best solved by assigning the role to a high baritone.” Totally clear. So why did the writer of that and the casting director/producer not communicate with one another because Marchesini is a counter–tenor (‘contraltista’ in the booklet). To my mind that casting sets up a vocal imbalance in the ensembles involving Marchesini. Do not misunderstand that: Marchesini sings with ringing clarity, good diction and considerable power to match his fellow performers. He despatches the role convincingly: my reservation relates to casting. Federico Lepre (Selimo) has a clear-toned tenor and provides an excellent distinction for his small interchanges with Regazzo.
Thinking of communication may I quibble on another point. The costume designer and lighting director ought to have sorted out Regazzo’s headgear. For his opening aria he stand at a high point back-stage with lighting above him (see the DVD cover picture above). That casts a deep shadow over his face except for the moments when he raises his head and ignores his troops beneath him. A small point but a distracting one.
This is not an action-packed opera. Except for Regazzo, who moves around the stage like a true potentate, there are many long musical sections where there is little that can be done save to ‘stand and deliver’. For example when Erisso is rousing his men to battle they swear on their swords – but those swords remain firmly undrawn – a moment of drama missed to my mind.
This production gives us a great deal more than the ‘one set fits all’ to which we have almost become accustomed. The curtain rises on a stage set with square and church middle stage. That then rises to give a full-stage width for the opening scene in the Hall of Erisso’s palace, which later becomes the vault or crypt. This two storey set is particularly effective in the later scenes.
The Finale belongs to Giannattasio. She makes it hers securely and completely, relaxing as she moves around the stage giving a delightful display of her remarkably focused and accurate vocal range where runs and leaps abound with some exemplary colouring.
Robert McKechnie

see also review by Robert J Farr


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